What is it about the period of the 1950s to the 1980s that meant so many of the best B-horror movies hit the big screen? Was it the need for political commentary? Did filmmakers suddenly have so many creative ideas that every major release had a second story to go with it? Or, was it the advent of television and then home video that forced quantity over quality in the dark corners of entertainment?
No matter the reason, the B-horror movie has become a staple of movie nights and film student art projects ever since. For a spooky night in, these movies promise a lot to think about.
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What Is A B-movie?
Back in the 1950s, a B-film was the second, lesser-known movie in a double feature. Today, a B-movie has broadened to encompass lower-budget motion pictures; the content may be sensationalized, offensive, unrefined, and poorly executed. But, sometimes these movies are so bad, they might just be good.
Our Top 5 B-Horror Films
If you enjoy rough-around-the-edges films and are craving an emotional rollercoaster movie night in, we suggest starting with these movies:
- Night of the Living Dead (1968)
- The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
- Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
- Eraserhead (1977)
- Plan 9 from Outer Space (1957)
Please watch these films with caution and awareness: As might be expected of a selection of B-rated horror movies, this isn’t high-brow cinema. You might have to lower your standards. With especially low-budget effects and a substantial amount of gore and adult themes, viewer discretion is strongly advised.
20 Best B-Horror Movies Of All Time
Get ready for a night of scares, laughs, and iconic horror scenes.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Chances are, even if you’ve not yet seen this film, you’ve heard of it. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is not only one of the best B-horror movies of all time, it’s also one of the most notorious movies, period.
Based on the all-too-real exploits of American serial killer Ed Gein, director Tobe Hooper’s low-budget entry into the horror genre has become a cult classic over time. It even spawned one of slasher horror’s most iconic villains, Leatherface, who now stands among company such as Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, and Michael Myers.
When a group of friends stop for a break from driving through Texas, they come across what they think is an abandoned house and wander inside. Little do they know, they’ve just stumbled upon the lair of someone responsible for some of the most grizzly killings of the modern day.
Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988)
Evil aliens terrorizing a small town is already a scary concept, but make them look like clowns and you’ve got yourself some great horror B-movies material. Interestingly, the “… from outer space” part of the title was an extra addition, designed to prevent horror fans and potential moviegoers from thinking this was just a slasher film.
Killer Klowns from Outer Space is one of the best horror movies for anyone who enjoys practical effects. This is partly because the Chiodo brothers – the writers/directors/producers of this movie – are part of a family of professional special effects artists. You’ll see their artistry once you take one look at these alien “klowns,” who have come to Earth to harvest humans so that they can consume their blood for sustenance.
If you’re after unusual creature features with well-made, horrible monsters, B-rated horror movies like this should be right up your street. However, if clowns terrify you, you might want to keep scrolling.
With so many of his short stories and horrific concepts available for adaptation, it shouldn’t be surprising that at least one of the best B-rated horror movies is based on something by Stephen King. In fact, the turnaround on this movie is fairly impressive, considering King’s novel came out in late April 1983 and this film hit cinemas in early December of the same year.
Many B-horror movies have quick development periods, but oftentimes they have been someone’s passion project for much longer.
Directed by legendary filmmaker John Carpenter, Christine centers on the relationship between a young, nerdy boy and “Christine,” his 1958 Plymouth Fury. This relationship is not great for the boy’s mental health as Christine is not only seemingly sentient and violent, but is also having a bad influence on him.
The Toxic Avenger (1984)
Fans of unconventional superhero stories will have a lot to enjoy with The Toxic Avenger, one of the goofiest B horror films ever made. To get an idea of the tone, part of the main novelty of this movie is that our hero has dedicated himself to fighting crime and protecting the citizens of… New Jersey.
Melvin, our hero, is a meek health club janitor with a strong sense of justice. After being tormented by a local quartet of fiendish customers, Melvin finds himself accidentally dropped into a barrel of toxic waste.
Despite the horrific scarring and being on fire for a short while, he emerges transformed into the frightening yet crusading Toxic Avenger. Now the town of Tromaville, NJ has a new local vigilante, and the world has one of its greatest classic B horror movies.
Friday the 13th (1980)
Friday the 13th is, in some ways, one of the most unexpected hit movie franchises in Hollywood history. Born from the simple idea that the unlucky date of the title would look good on a full newspaper page, the series has had many highs and lows of quality across the decades.
The hockey-mask-wearing, unstoppable force that is Jason Voorhees has returned so many times that he’s crossed franchises to fight other movie monsters and even been to space.
But before he became the mainstay of these classic horror films, right at the start of this series, we had the simple story of a group of teenagers attending the supposedly cursed Camp Crystal Lake. Despite warnings from locals about the camp’s troubled past, the teens intend to have a good time and instead get picked off one by one.
This original entry, directed by Sean S. Cunningham, is one of the best B-horror movies in the franchise.
Sleepaway Camp (1983)
The cult status of Friday the 13th was strong enough to spawn any number of imitations, and Sleepaway Camp is one of those copies. However, despite the others almost exclusively employing adult actors to portray the younger main characters, here we have actual adolescent actors in the roles.
Although, that might be more of a problem considering the adult subject matter…
As the sole survivor of a tragic accident, a shy, young girl, Angela, is sent to live with her eccentric Aunt Martha and her protective cousin Ricky. When Ricky and Angela head to summer camp, accidents start befalling the other campers. And, they seem to be affecting anyone who’s mean to Angela.
Sleepaway Camp may have been something of a knockoff, but you can’t argue with its box office results. Just be prepared for a shocking climax.
Braindead/Dead Alive (1992)
Before Oscar-winning director Peter Jackson reinvented the cinematic fantasy genre, he made several low-budget B-horror movies that were of an entirely different vibe. Possibly the most well-known of these is Braindead (known as Dead Alive in the USA), a zombie comedy splatter-fest that has achieved cult status among horror fans.
In it, a timid New Zealand bachelor living with his domineering mother has his life turned upside down when, following a bite from a Sumatran rat-monkey, his mother turns into a zombie. But not the slow, shuffling kind of zombie; she is a rabid, ravenous flesh-eater, and those she attacks soon become the same. Before long, it’s time to begin the mass dismemberment.
If you are interested in those Sumatran rat-monkeys and even more terrifying creatures, we are pretty sure you’ll also enjoy the best horror films straight out of Indonesia.
Night of the Living Dead (1968)
One of the most influential horror B-movies ever made, Night of the Living Dead is a cultural touchstone. This is how Western society got the notion of zombies as flesh-eating members of the walking dead – a pivotal moment for the zombie genre.
Co-writer/director George A. Romero’s black-and-white survival horror film also broke ground in terms of casting, with African-American actor Duane Jones in the lead role. He, together with leading lady Judith O’Dea and a few others, find themselves holed up in a farmhouse while trying to repel the undead, who are intent on devouring them.
With trailblazing violence and gore, this movie could be considered responsible for an entire subgenre. It is the perfect example of a low-budget but creative and good movie.
The Return of the Living Dead (1985)
George A. Romero and John Russo were the two writers who created Night of the Living Dead back in 1968. When they went their separate ways, they each added to the zombie movie genre. Romero went on to make Day of the Dead, and Russo wrote the novel that this 1985 follow-up was based on.
For The Return of the Living Dead, we find ourselves in Louisville, Kentucky, where two bumbling employees at a medical supply warehouse accidentally release a deadly gas into the air. The gas, as you might have guessed, causes the dead to rise and begin a rampage.
As well as being one of the best B-horror movies, this comedic horror is notable for two reasons. First, it has a noteworthy soundtrack, featuring many Los Angeles punk and death rock bands of the day. Second, this is where zombies in media first started to eat brains.
Plan 9 from Outer Space (1957)
Plan 9 from Outer Space has the dubious honor of being named the worst movie ever made, which for many, makes it one of the great movies of our time. This B-horror movie is so bad that there are even movies dedicated to how bad it is. Fortunately, there’s still plenty to enjoy.
The plot is convoluted, the sets are flimsy and cheap, and the acting is either wooden or astoundingly hammy. And yet, there is a strange charm despite the lack of talent. The plot: aliens attack Earth, resurrecting the dead along the way.
We highly recommend watching Plan 9 from Outer Space with a group of friends to get the most enjoyment – and laughs – out of it.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
For one of the most well-known and considerably best B movies of all time, look no further than the bonafide cult classic, The Rocky Horror Picture Show. This film has something for everyone: young romance, shocking deaths, monstrous creations, colorful characters, and insanely catchy musical numbers.
Adapted from the stage musical brainchild of Richard O’Brien (who also appears in the film), this high-energy horror-comedy became a sleeper sensation thanks to midnight movie screenings.
When their car breaks down in a storm, young couple Brad and Janet take refuge at a nearby castle. However, little do they know that this castle belongs to Dr. Frank-N-Furter, a mad scientist who claims to be from another planet – and who has just finished his ultimate creation.
For some of The Uncorked Librarian team, we still remember our first viewing. We had no idea watching the movie was meant to be an interactive experience. There are a series of audience callbacks that you can have ready to go. Playbill has the best list of them to get you started. Get ready to shout at the big screen and bond with strangers.
Oh boy. If ridiculous premises and debatable visual effects make for a good movie, then Sharknado is one of the best B-horror films ever made. Originally a semi-serious, made-for-TV movie, this illogical yet compelling story quickly gained a cult following upon its release. It’s utterly ridiculous and laughable – but oh so watchable.
Plus, would you believe that there are six entries in the Sharknado canon, as well as three spinoff movies? It surprised us a little. Sort of.
The action begins when a freak hurricane off the coast of Mexico somehow lifts a large shiver of ravenous sharks into the air, carrying them toward southern California. In order to make sure his estranged wife and daughter are OK, former surf champion turned bar owner Finley “Fin” Shepard and friends must battle their way through shower after shower of hungry sharks.
Will they be able to withstand the deadly Sharknado?
The Blob (1958)
The Blob is one of the original creature features, and it’s one of the best B-horror movies of the 1950s, with plenty of parodies across all kinds of media. Amazingly, this movie – which was originally released on double features with I Married a Monster from Outer Space – is legendary Hollywood star Steve McQueen’s debut leading role in a feature film.
In it, he plays Steve Andrews, a teenager living in small-town Pennsylvania where a meteorite from space makes a crash landing. Contained within is the Blob, a strange substance that seems to absorb everything it touches, especially people.
With time running out as the Blob takes over more of the town, the race is on to discover its weakness… if it even has any.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
The horror B-movies manage to get under your skin, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers has one of the most original, super-unnerving story concepts. Based on the serialized novel by Jack Finney, the film serves as a political allegory of its time and continues to make people paranoid to this day.
Our story begins with a man held in custody at a hospital where he recounts the events leading up to his arrest. Having arrived in the town of Santa Maria, Dr. Miles Bennell starts to see patients who tell him they think that their relatives are imposters.
Initially skeptical, he begins to investigate and soon uncovers what appears to be a conspiracy that threatens not just the town, but the entire human race.
The Blair Witch Project (1999)
When it was originally released, The Blair Witch Project caused something of a sensation. Marketed as a documentary made by filmmakers who are now either dead or missing, many people believed that this was indeed real “found footage” from a trio of film students. This was easier to achieve when the internet hadn’t yet become as essential as it is today.
Needless to say, the “shaky-cam” handheld technique would go on to become a staple of the found footage sub-genre.
Having wandered out into the woods to investigate the legend of the “Blair Witch,” three film students with cameras and sound equipment soon find themselves hearing strange noises. Over time, they become more and more distressed, as they believe they are falling prey to the evil spirit of the Blair Witch.
While The Blair Witch Project might be an overhyped movie to The Uncorked Librarian team, it is still one of the most popular folk horror movies of its time – and a staple of the 1990s.
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The Evil Dead (1981)
Like many of these B horror movies, The Evil Dead leaves quite an impression on the viewer. With its mixture of live-action, animation, and special effects, this thrill ride takes supernatural horror and gore to a new level.
Many people are much more familiar with the sequel, Evil Dead II, which acts as something of a soft reboot version of this film and is more comedic in tone. This first outing – which is also Sam Raimi’s directorial debut – stars frequent cult movie actor Bruce Campbell, and is much more serious.
When five college students head to a cabin in the woods for a relaxing vacation, they find a book and an audiotape that causes evil to rise and run amok. Can they survive until morning?
Night of the Creeps (1986)
With an abundance of references to other works of horror fiction, Night of the Creeps is truly one of the best B-horror films. Not only are most of the main characters named after prominent horror movie makers, but the script is filled with as many B-movie staples as possible by writer/director Fred Dekker.
Following an incident in the 1950s, a frozen corpse is left undisturbed in a secret room in the local university medical center. Three decades later, that corpse is discovered by two students trying to join a fraternity.
It immediately comes to “life” and goes on a killing spree. The corpse is being powered by an alien slug, and soon nobody’s brain is safe.
There is nothing quite like Eraserhead. Written, produced, directed, and edited by auteur filmmaker David Lynch (he was even directly involved in the sound design), this is his debut motion picture – and his most unnerving.
Shot in black and white, it is ostensibly the story of Harry Spencer, a man who works in a factory and who becomes the father of a highly unusual baby.
The movie has a strong nightmarish quality to it. Any interpretations of what it means have been kept close to Lynch’s chest ever since he made it.
Eraserhead is completely unique and intense, with a script that was influenced by, among other things, the bleak stories of Franz Kafka – and it shows. It’s also one of the best B-horror movies ever made. If for some reason you can’t unsee Kramer, neither can we.
Attack of the Puppet People (1958)
If you’ve seen any 1950s black and white movies on TV on a Sunday afternoon, you’ll be familiar with the production style of Attack of the Puppet People. Throughout his career, director Bert I. Gordon made many films dealing with differences in scale.
This time, however, it’s not that the attacking monster is big; it’s that the people in danger are small, thanks to the machinations of Mr. Franz, owner of the local doll manufacturing company.
With the help of his shrinking machine and some capsules that induce suspended animation, he’s been amassing a collection of exceedingly lifelike “dolls” for some time now. It’s all good fun, and there are some ingenious practical effects and props used to achieve the look of the puppet people’s surroundings as well. The premise is much like Pinocchio gone terribly wrong.
You’re Next (2011)
Just when it looked like the slasher genre was fading into the background, this modern B-horror movie came crashing into cinemas to prove that home invasions are still terrifying. What made You’re Next immediately stand out from the crowd was its mixture of startling gore, ingenious twist deaths, and very, very dark humor.
At a tight 94 minutes in length, this is one of the best horror films to enjoy as part of a movie marathon night with a big bowl of popcorn.
Our story focuses on the estranged Davison family, with partners Aubrey and Paul deciding to try and mend any broken ties by inviting everyone to their wedding anniversary celebration. Traveling down to their weekend estate, the idea of partying becomes impossible when the house is besieged by unknown assailants wearing animal masks. And before long, the bodies start to pile up.
Ways to watch these movies and read their related books:
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- Audible Plus: From Amazon, listen to Amazon Originals, podcasts, and audiobooks. They add new titles every week.
You might also enjoy…
We’d love to know your favorite B-movies in the comments, especially those filled with horror, suspense, and chilling thrills. What’s the most ridiculous B-horror film you’ve watched?
And, if you are looking for more of the best horror movies, try these lists:
Jeremy (pronouns: any) is an autistic writer, hobbyist, and movie buff, as long as that movie is Labyrinth. Since leaving the corporate world behind in 2018, he has read more books than he thought possible. True to his British upbringing, his first instinct in any given situation is to put the kettle on.